The chairman of McHenry County College’s theater department, Jay Geller, has always been an innovator. And having worked with him in the past, I know him to be a skilled director.
For his latest creative endeavor, MCC’s Black Box Theatre offers four plays on YouTube for all those who missed their earlier premiere. The plays are gathered under the title “Unstable Connections: A Collection of Zoom Plays,” focused quite delightfully and poignantly on different relationships during the age of Zoom.
What’s exciting is not only the cast – all talented MCC students, alumni and area community members – but also the freshness and vitality of the plays written by area alumni Rikki Lee Travolta, Adrian Nuño and Lauryn Lugo, with a two-parter by Jay Geller himself. Annelise Loser is assistant director.
“Don’t Leave Me,” by Geller, deals with the breakup of Rachel and Nate, and the subsequent seeking of paternal advice. Both Hayley DeCicco and Ethan Sherman are very realistic in their portrayals, although Sherman has a lot more angst and comedy to work with – but what do you expect from a shorts-wearing, speech-inflected “All You Need Is Love” very bad singer?
DeCicco’s torment (“you’re in a different place, and I’m not there”) as she asserts her need to break up is very plausible. Who hasn’t been there? Paul Lockwood appears in the second half and shows us his “dad-ness” as the mature, perplexed and embarrassed father of Rachel. He is adamant that he’s not sure he can help the hapless Nate, and the relationship is over, but he does give some hesitant advice that enlists the image of Andre Dawson. DeCicco, Sherman and Lockwood are thoroughly engaging.
The next play, Travolta’s “Someone Nice Like You,” is a heart-string puller. Heather Bilecki plays a sex worker with a heart of gold, and Dale Hansen (who by the way has a calming and melodic voice) is a father who hasn’t seen his own daughter since she was 16 and just wants to talk. He picked Bilecki’s character because of her resemblance to his daughter. Bilecki and Hansen have the chemistry necessary to pull this off – watch as the edges come off – and they are both skilled enough actors to do it. The ending is especially touching with simplicity and emotion thanks to them both.
The third play, “The Story of Giovanni,” by Nuño, is particularly enticing. Shannon Mayhall portrays a first-time therapist with all the anxieties and skills yet to be developed in her over-eager, naive, happy-go-lucky manner. She’s dealing with C.J. Arevalo’s character, Giovanni, who has a depressed and isolated-from-his-friends attitude. His only request is to be called Gio. There’s a shutdown (“That’s the best you can do?”) but also a return and a relationship that begins anew with hope and promise. Mayhall is magical, and Arevalo is vulnerably potent.
The fourth and final play, “Breakout,” by Lugo, is the longest of them. April Noel and Jake Seeyle are Lydia and Cam, and we’re introduced to them on their first date (sweet), and intervals of six months and six years, begging the question how does a couple so in love, and so excited, descend into a relationship where Cam is saying that he can’t give Lydia the future she deserves, and he’s not happy. Noel is a pro at facial expression and vocal interpretation, and Seeyle is masterful at conveying distress and insecurity; both also know when to correctly deliver humor.
As the entire cast of these Zoom plays demonstrate, they are talented and credible performers who inject life into their characters, which also is to the credit and strength of the playwrights’ words and Geller’s direction.
The free show runs one hour with no intermission, and includes adult language and themes.
MCC’s “Unstable Connections” is a genuinely interesting and entertaining collection of funny, dramatic and razor-sharp plays worth your viewing.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is an MCC alum who directed “Moon Over Buffalo” at the Black Box Theatre. She continues to serve on several Illinois theater boards and anxiously awaits a return to live theater with live audiences.
IF YOU VIEW
WHAT: “Unstable Connections: A Collection of Zoom Plays”
COST: Free on YouTube
TO WATCH: youtu.be/j0oP3I6E4yA